I don't have to tell you how stressful back-to-school can be. But we don't have to stay in a state of perpetual stress. In this episode, we'll explore how we should address both our thinking and actions to reduce stress and get ourselves ready for a great school year.
The 3 steps to ending the back-to-school stress
If you're feeling stressed right now about back to school, it's super common, but that doesn't mean we have to stay there. There are some things we can do to handle the stress.
1. Analyze why you are feeling stressed
Often when I'm stressed, I'm not even completely sure why. Especially if I'm stressed because there's so much going on, I don't have a specific answer. It just feels like so much sometimes.
Even if it's not to-do list related, even if it's related to anxiety over what's going to happen, it feels like a lot. You might not be able to pinpoint exactly why, but that's when it's really valuable to stop and ask that question, "What exactly is making me feel so stressed?" Just recognizing and naming the issue will immediately be helpful. Even if you don't do anything else, that will be helpful because you'll have some clarity.
2. examine your stress through the lens of the gospel
Once you've identified some of the reasons why you're stressed, it’s time to ask yourself, “How am I thinking about this situation? Am I thinking about it correctly? Are my thoughts in line with what is true, with what God has said to be true? And are there places where I need to realign them?”
This takes some thought and prayer, but when we can identify that we aren’t quite thinking the right way about certain things, then we can identify the truth, choose to believe it, and realign our thoughts with God's thoughts. That makes a huge difference.
3. consider practical implications
You can ask, “What should I do about this?”, but it’s even better to first ask, “Is there something I should do about this?” Sometimes the answer is no, I just need to trust God. But often there is something that we can and should do.
So we can ask ourselves, “Are there any practical steps God would have me take that would help alleviate this problem or the stress around it?" When we pray that question, a lot of times things do come to our mind. We might not know everything we should do, but there are normally at least a couple things that will help that we can move forward with.
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Four examples of the process in action
There are a couple common stressors at this time of year for teachers. These may or may not be ones that you are experiencing, but I want to go through them as examples of how you can apply this framework to whatever you're facing. So if you recognize one of these stresses, great. If not, you can still use these examples and this framework to think through whatever it is you're stressing about.
1. I'm worried about what people think of me
So remember the first step was, “Why am I stressed?” For the first example, you realize, “I'm worried about what people will think of me. I'm worried about what my administrator will think. I'm worried about what my students will think. I'm really worried about whether or not people are going to like me as a teacher.” So if that's the issue, how would you work through this?
The next step is to look at the stress through the lens of the Gospel. Sticking with the example, the reality is that I work for God, not man. My worth is not in whether or not people think I'm a good teacher or whether they like me the most. I need to have the realization that my worth is in Christ. I can be firm and confident in him. In that way I can show up for work, ready to pour into my students and colleagues, rather than needing their validation and getting stressed when I'm not getting it.
The final step is about the practical. Are there any areas I've struggled with in the past that I do need to improve in? In the past, I’ve worried about whether or not my students think I'm a good teacher.
So I might ask myself, “Okay, are there any specific areas where I honestly do need to improve a little bit?” If I can think of one, then I can seek out solutions or training, like our mentorship program, where we help teachers with a variety of struggles like classroom management, balance, engagement, and so much more. So there's an example if you're worried about what people think.
2. i'm worried about student behaviors
Let's go through this with another example. At step one, analyze why you're stressed. Let’s say the answer is, "I'm actually really worried about student behaviors. I don't know if my students are going to listen to me. I don't know if they are going to behave. I don't know if they're going to do the work."
So now let’s go through the spiritual piece. Am I thinking correctly about this? I might think about it and say, “I am worried about this because I really want to do a good job and I want my students to behave, but I think I'm actually tying my value as a person and as a teacher to how the students behave. And that shouldn't be. My identity is not in whether or not my students behave.”
Once again, as with the other example, my identity and worth is in Christ. I'm here to serve him by serving my students in helping them succeed. I do want to see my students behave for their sakes so that they can learn, and for the sake of our classroom environment, but I need to be careful about feeling like my students' behavior is somehow tied to my worth.
Then let's move on to practical. Thinking practically, I did struggle with this a lot last year, so I think I actually need to make some changes. Let me sit down and think through what I want to do differently, so I can set up a situation that's good for my students. If I’m focused on what's good for my students and not having my worth tied up in that, that frees me to look for solutions with less stress attached to it.
Once again, I can go seek out specific solutions. I can ask a colleague, I can talk to my administrator, I can go online. If this is your situation, we have a free training called How to Reduce Disruptions Without Yelling, Begging or Bribing. You can get it here.
3. I'm stressed because there's too much on my to-do list
If I analyze why am I stressed, it might be because there is so much to do and I don't feel like I have time for it. Maybe there’s another layer, like I didn't get enough rest.
Now let’s think through the spiritual. I'm so stressed about this, but the reality is that God has given me this work to do. He has called me to do my best in each moment, but he has not called me to overwork. He hasn't called me to anxiety, so if I'm this stressed about my work, something's off. I might ask myself the question, “Am I placing too much of my value in whether or not I finish my to-do list? Am I putting my to-do list in too high of a place? Do I need to do all the things on my to-do list, or are some of these here to impress other people that I don't really need to impress?”
This thinking through, it's going to look different for everybody, but maybe your conclusion is, “I need to trust God that it either doesn't need to get done or there will be time to do it another time.”
Now it’s time for the practical. Okay, if I feel like I have more to do than I have time to do it, I need to get clarity and make sure I'm spending my time on the things that really matter. So when I'm feeling like this, what I like to do is a brain dump, which means write down on paper everything that is in my mind that I feel like I have to do. Then organize it by putting a star by things that are most important.
Now do you need to do everything on this list? If the answer is “no,” choose to cross them out now because you know you don’t have time for them. We call that trash in the 4T system.
Now are there things that I can trim because my time is limited? For example, for decorating my classroom, I was going to make these elaborate bulletin boards, but can I just put up some posters and have the kids create something with this bulletin board later? That can cut down on a lot of work. So there are things that we can trim and make a lot simpler, do less of them, or do a quicker version.
Finally, make a to-do list for the day and focus on one thing at a time. This helps you not waste time feeling stressed and allows you to get right to work.
4. I'm stressed because of controversial issues
The last example is a common one. I'm worried about controversial issues in my school, or social or political differences. There are a lot of hot button issues right now.
This is a tricky one and I know it's on a lot of your minds. To be honest, I don't think any of these things are going away anytime soon. So let's think about them. Why are you stressed? Is there a specific situation that you're worried about that actually exists, or are you stressing about hypothetical situations?
That is a helpful differentiator in your mind because if you're stressed about a specific actual situation that is happening, then you can address that specific situation. If you're stressed about a hypothetical situation, you can still address it, but you need to be careful about allowing yourself to stress out so much about something that's only hypothetical. So that's a helpful differentiator.
Now let's think about the mindset or spiritual piece of this. Here are some good questions that you might ask, “Am I placing too much value in being comfortable in this world? Or do I understand that God's kingdom and his work involve trial and difficulty?"
For a while, we as Christians, particularly in America, have been pretty comfortable. But more and more, the beliefs of the Bible do not match what society is saying. Is that stressing me out because I'm placing too much value in my comfort? Am I really worried about the kingdom of God? Or am I just worried because I want to be comfortable? That's a hard question, but honestly I think a lot of our stress in these areas comes from, "I don't want to have to deal with this."
And that's normal, but that's not what we see in Scripture. In Scripture, we see God has called us. We are aliens and strangers. It's not going to be easy. The fact that it's been so easy for so long, that's the anomaly. We are now entering more of a reality of what is normal for the church and what is happening all over the world. And we're not even there yet.
Now I have another question. Am I resting in God's sovereignty? In other words, do I truly believe and act on the belief that God is in control, that he knows what's going on and he's allowing big and small situations for a reason? Do I rest in that? Or am I somehow worried what's happening is almost like we're losing the battle? Remember, God has already won. I don't have to worry about God's purposes and plans being messed up because of the craziness going on in our society. God is not threatened by any of that.
Another question is, “Am I trusting that God will guide me if and when I face these tough situations? And if it does happen, can I trust that God will guide me through that?”
As for the practical, especially if you have a specific situation or you are anticipating a specific situation, seek advice. Seek advice from a pastor, trusted friends, and the church community about the specific situations you're concerned about. Real life relationships are the best place to explore tough questions like this, especially within the church where God has placed you. Reach out to people, open up a little bit, and seek advice about specific situations.
Real life relationships are definitely the best place to explore tough questions like this, but we do also have a Facebook group. That does not replace real life, but sometimes it's helpful to ask in that format as well. There are a lot of like-minded people there. So if you're not part of our Facebook group, you can join here.
Another wonderful resource if these are the types of things you're concerned about is Christian Educators. They are a wonderful organization that specializes in helping teachers with a variety of situations like this. You can find out more about Christian Educators here.
I believe this is going to be a great year for you. That doesn’t mean everything's going to be easy and there won’t be trials. But God is good and he loves you, so whatever he brings into this school year, good or bad, hard or easy it will be exactly what you need and he's going to use you. Let's trust in him, and walk in the steps that he has put before us.
Help for those stressed about student behaviors
Teach 4 the Heart's FREE training: How to Reduce Disruptions without Yelling, Begging, or Bribing can bring some relief.
This 50-minute training will cover:
- 3 mistakes that cause classroom chaos - and how to avoid them
- How to get students to listen without being mean
- Why students aren't following your procedures - and how to get them to start!
- The system I used to drastically reduce chatter, blurting & other disruption
- And much more!
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